Pvt. Ryan Gets A Pass (updated 3/01)

Your tax dollars at work: In the Matter of Complaints Against Various Television Licensees Regarding Their Broadcast on November 11, 2004, of the ABC Television Network’s Presentation of the Film “Saving Private Ryan” (press release)

18. In so concluding, we find that this case is distinguishable from that in which we

previously found the use of the word “fucking” during the broadcast of the 2003 Golden Globe Awards ceremony to be indecent and profane in context. The contextual differences between the expletives contained in the broadcast of the film here and that contained in the 2003 broadcast of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony are critical to our analysis under section 1464. The utterance of the word “fucking” by a performer during the Golden Globe Awards telecast occurred in the context of a live awards program in which use of the word was shocking and gratuitous, where no claim of “any political, scientific or other independent value” was made, and during which children were expected to be in the audience. Consequently, we concluded that, in context, the use of the word “fucking” in that instance was indecent and profane. In contrast, and as discussed above, in the different context presented here, the complained-of material broadcast during the presentation of the film “Saving Private Ryan” is not indecent or profane.

Hmmmmmmmm – and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, again? Too bad stations had to wait for someone to take the plunge before the FCC would rule.

Later: CNN looks at What was censored at the Oscars [pdf]

Comedian Robin Williams said it all when he walked on stage with a piece of white tape over his mouth.

Williams was to have performed a song lampooning conservative critic James C. Dobson, whose group had criticized cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants for appearing in a video it branded “pro-homosexual.”

He was going to do it by concentrating on the dark underside of other cartoon characters, asking, for example whether Casper the Friendly Ghost wore that white sheet as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Marc Shaiman, who wrote Williams’ original routine, said he decided to withdraw the material after ABC raised objections that would have led to him re-writing 11 of 36 lines. ABC declined to comment.

[…] Williams was not available to comment on his act at the Oscars, but he told the New York Times [pdf] on Friday:

“For a while you get mad, then you get over it. They’re afraid of saying Olive Oyl is anorexic. It tells you about the state of humor. It’s strange to think: How afraid are you?”

The New Yorker on Ringtones

Ring My Bell: The expensive pleasures of the ringtone [pdf]

Ringtones of either variety cost about two dollars and are typically no more than twenty-five seconds long. Nevertheless, according to Consect, a marketing and consulting firm in Manhattan, ringtones generated four billion dollars in sales around the world in 2004. The United States accounted for only three hundred million of these dollars, although Consect predicts that the figure will double this year. Fabrice Grinda, the C.E.O. of Zingy, a company in New York that sells ringtones and cell-phone games, told me that in parts of Asia ringtones now outsell some types of CDs. “In 2004, the Korean ringtone market was three hundred and fifty million dollars, while the CD market for singles was just two hundred and fifty million,” Grinda said.

But America is catching up. […]

[…] Polyphonic ringtones are essentially cover versions of songs: aggregators must pay royalties to the publisher, who then pays the songwriter. But master tones are compressed versions of original recordings, which means that record labels—the entities that typically own recordings—are entitled to collect a fee, too.

That fee can be considerable: record labels get twenty-five per cent of every master-tone sale (though they must pass along a portion of their take to the performer and the publisher). “It’s an unbelievable mess,” Les Watkins, the vice-president of Music Reports, Inc., a music-licensing and accounting firm, said. “A lot of these aggregator companies were very early players, essentially beholden to the major record labels and the music publishers to get the rights they needed. And, in this country, the music business is a very mature and consolidated business—somewhat collusive, in fact. The aggregators accepted rates and terms that they really didn’t have to accept, and agreed to license the music in such a way that they’re overpaying by a tremendous multiple.”

This arrangement is unlikely to last. There are now Web-based companies, like Xingtone, for example, that will convert songs from your collection into master tones. Or you can do it yourself: some new cell-phone models can be connected to a computer by a data cable, allowing you to create master tones from MP3 files at home. However it is done, transferring music that you own to your phone is legal under copyright law.

Slashdot: Short History of Cellphone Ringtones

FCC’s Copps on Broadband Policy

Why our broadband policy’s still a mess

At the same time, the state legislature in Indiana recently shot down a bill that would impose significant restrictions on municipalities for launching their own broadband infrastructure services.

It’s not an easy thing if you’re the leader of a hard-pressed, cash-strapped municipality–as all of them are in this day and age–to take on additional burden of providing broadband to your people.

I think we do a grave injustice in trying to hobble municipalities. That’s an entrepreneurial approach, that’s an innovative approach. Why don’t we encourage that instead of having bills introduced–“Oh, you can’t do this because it’s interfering with somebody’s idea of the functioning of the marketplace.” And then the marketplace is not functioning in those places.

The Bells say that government should not be competing with the private sector.
They are not out there trying to put broadband in the municipality. Where is the competition?

The Bells also say they’re trying to protect residents from being unfairly taxed if such an infrastructure were to go belly-up.

Well, a municipality is a democratically run institution. They can make their own decisions. They don’t need the Bells. They don’t need the Administration, and they don’t need me telling them what kind of decision they should be making.

[…] You’ve been very outspoken about network neutrality. You had some comments about that today, during your speech.

I’ve been outspoken about the principle of nondiscrimination. I think that’s the first step we have to take and for everybody to agree on that. I spoke about this a year or two ago. I was happy to see (FCC Chairman Michael) Powell give similar remarks and commitment to that principle of nondiscrimination–open access or network neutrality. I think Chairman Powell talks a lot about best practices and voluntary guidelines and things like that, and you’d like to hope that that would be sufficient.

But then you read something in the paper, like the complaint that Vonage may file with the commission, and you realize that maybe there is a problem out there and maybe we ought to ask ourselves a question: Is all this really going to take care of itself without some sort of more imaginative or innovative approach from the commission?

Related: Michal Geist’s article: Let towns, cities provide cheap, everywhere broadband [pdf]

Commissioner Copps’ speech – Remarks of Commissioner Copps; “9-1-1 Goes To Washington Critical Issues Forum”

Later: Slashdot discussion – FCC Member Copps In Favor of Municipal WiFi

What Makes A Utility “Public?”

Big Telcos Fighting Public-Sector Competition [pdf]

Cities and towns from San Francisco to Philadelphia, viewing access to advanced telecommunications as pivotal to prosperity, are aggressively seeking ways to provide high-speed Internet connections, wired or wireless, for citizens and local businesses.

But telephone and cable TV companies have responded by flexing political and financial muscle at the state level, arguing that government has no business getting into their business.

So far, about a dozen states have passed measures either restricting or banning public sector efforts to deliver telecom services, while similar legislation has been introduced in about a half dozen other states.

And in related battles, Bellsouth Corp. is suing a North Carolina town that is leasing space on its fiber-optic network, while SBC Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. mailed fliers and ran newspaper ads in Illinois last year to help defeat a three-town referendum on building a fiber network.

UK Digital Film Distribution

UK pioneers digital film network

Most cinemas currently have mechanical projectors but the new network will see up to 250 screens in up to 150 cinemas fitted with digital projectors capable of displaying high definition images.

The new network will double the world’s total of digital screens.

[…] Each film is about 100 gigabytes and has been compressed from an original one terabyte-size file.

[…] The film will all be encrypted to prevent piracy and each cinema will have an individual key which will unlock the movie.

[…] Digital prints cost less than a traditional 35mm print – giving distributors more flexibility in how they screen films, said Ms Deans.

“It can cost up to £1,500 to make a copy of a print for specialist films. “In the digital world you can make prints for considerably less than that.

“Distributors can then send out prints to more cinemas and prints can stay in cinemas for much longer.”

Network Control

Tough rules for ringtone sellers

Firms that flout rules on how ringtones and other mobile extras are sold could be cut off from all UK phone networks.

The rules allow offenders to be cut off if they do not let consumers know exactly what they get for their money and how to turn off the services.

Online Selling To Teens

Online Retailers Pursue Teenagers — This article is about the efforts of Federated department stores to get kids to shop at their new online portal www.thisit.com. But I was struck by this statistic in the article:

Teenage boys buy more goods online, Mr. Callender said, because the items they are interested in – like videos, music and tech gizmos – are easier to evaluate online than the sweaters, shoes and other items that are high on teenage girls’ online shopping lists. “Also, shopping is more a social occasion for girls,” he said. “But we are seeing girls becoming more comfortable with buying clothes online.”

Analysts and online executives said that the increasing use of high-speed connections by residential Internet users has boosted the teenage market. Faster connections give Web sites license to offer more multimedia features, which can retain adolescents’ attention without frustrating other visitors.

EBay is the notable exception to the rule that teenagers crave gilt and flash from their Web sites. The site is by far the most popular online shopping destination for teenagers. According to comScore Media Metrix, an Internet consultancy, eBay had nearly 5 million visitors between the ages of 12 and 17 in January, compared with about 3 million for Amazon, which ranked second.

Here’s the question — how do they know? And how interesting that they get to sell that info to comScore Media Metrix and their ilk.

WTF? Price Hikes?

So, is this an indication that the industry expects to win Grokster, or is this an effort to make Grokster look like more of a threat by killing the nascent eTailing business? Or is this just foolish, shortsighted greed? Music download prices to rise

Several big labels are in talks with online music retailers to get them to increase prices,according to the FT. The labels are looking to increase the wholesale prices shops pay for tracks. Sites in the US typically sell tracks for 99 cents each. The wholesale price is currently 65 cents per track, according to the FT.

Universal and Sony BMG are less keen to put prices up. EMI and Time Warner refused to comment on the FT story. Some observers are concerned that increasing prices would push people back to peer-to-peer networks and dodgy copies of songs.

The music industry is apparently unhappy with Apple’s increasing share of the market – the firm sells about 65 per cent of songs sold online. The arrival of cheaper iPods is likely to give the firm an even larger share of the market. Apple refused to comment on the FT’s story but Steve Jobs is reportedly deeply unhappy with the attempted price hike.

One suggestion is that labels want to introduce variable pricing – so they can charge more for top selling tracks.

CNN’s Music download prices rising? [pdf]

Later: Slashdot’s MP3 Download Prices to Rise?; and, in true Slashdot fashion, a repeat: Music Labels May Seek Higher Download Prices

Later: A link to the FT article – Top music labels try to raise prices for downloads [pdf]

Round 2: Negativland IPod

Positive About Negativland IPod (see earlier Those Negativland Troublemakers!) – the auction site is definitely worth a visit!

Three months ago, artist Francis Hwang was blocked from selling an unauthorized Special-Edition Negativland vs. U2 IPod on eBay’s auction site after Apple complained it violated its copyrights.

So now Hwang has decided to ditch eBay. He’s selling the iPod on his own website with the intention of turning a statement about pop culture into a free speech issue — even if Apple launches a legal challenge.

[…] “I paid money to Apple and I used my own credit card to buy a U2 iPod, said Hwang, “This thing that I’m selling is mine to do so.”

Hwang may be playing with fire. Apple is famously litigious. The company has sued many times to protect its intellectual property rights and trademarks, and is currently suing several journalists for allegedly misappropriating trade secrets.

But Hwang said he is confident Apple will not take legal action. The company, he said, has no legal grounds whatsoever to object to the iPod’s sale.

Hwang said his Negativland vs. U2 iPod does not violate any of Apple’s intellectual property rights: It cannot be confused with an official Apple product, and because he bought the Negativland CDs and the original iPod, he’s at liberty to resell them.

“I’m not a martyr,” he said. “I’m not going to take a fall so people can feel good about themselves. I want to show that if you pick your battles carefully you can win.”

From the auction site:

Bidders should be aware that Apple Computer has alleged that this parody is in violation of its intellectual property rights. Francis Hwang disclaims any and all loss or liability resulting from, but not limited to: (1) glee experienced due to the thumbing of one’s nose at a large corporation’s abuse of intellectual property law; (2) ontological anxiety about whether to treat the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition as a collectible artifact of an online performance or a quickly obsolescing consumer appliance; (3) the desire to gloat to one’s friends and associates about the possession of this product.

Alliances in the Grokster Battle

Frankly, I don’t think one needs to go any further than “Fear Factor” and similar “reality” shows to find pornography these days, but that’s just me (OK, maybe not). After all, isn’t pornography just people degrading themselves for the gratification of a third party observer in exchange for money?

It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court elects to respond to this sort of politically charged hysteria: File – Sharing Case Unites Unlikely Allies [pdf]

File-swapping services make pornography easily accessible to minors, the social conservatives submit. The entertainment companies, meanwhile, blame sharing for declining sales and lost revenue.

An unlikely alliance thus formed.

“Hollywood is definitely a strange bedfellow to most of us,” said Jim Backlin, vice president of legislative affairs for the Christian Coalition of America. “Our goal was to cut down child pornography and other kinds of pornography, and if for some reason we were allied with the Hollywood types this time, so be it.”

On the other side, the file-sharing companies have also found unlikely allies, including libraries concerned that tighter copyright controls would stifle free speech.

[…] Attorneys general for 39 states and Guam, meanwhile, have sided with the social conservatives, raising concern over the potential for minors to stumble upon pornography.

The federal government also filed a brief. It argues that while file-sharing technology has legitimate uses, Morpheus and Grokster profit by encouraging computer users to copy music and films without paying for them.

Not to be outdone, file-sharing companies have support from a big slice of the technology sector.

“If Hollywood gets its way, they’ll be granted de facto control over, frankly, the vast majority of communications and technology today,” said Will Rodger, director of public policy for the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents Sun Microsystems Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and 28 other companies.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which represents upward of 1,700 technology companies, including Sony Corp., Intel Corp., TiVo Inc., is also planning a brief in support of Grokster and StreamCast.

The companies fear a ruling against the file-sharing services would leave them susceptible to lawsuits if they develop devices or technologies not approved by the entertainment industry.

[…] “We think there’s a distinction between analyzing the legality of a technology and analyzing the legality of a company or a company’s behavior,” said Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association, which counts Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft Corp. among its members. “We don’t think companies who create technology should be liable for other uses of the technology.”

Wonder where the National Rifle Association stands on this?

Later: Ernest Miller’s posting on other discussions of this set of alliances – An Engine of Censorship

Is it a coincidence that the copyright industry (which usually celebrates the First Amendment) seeks to get in bed with censors?